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veterans day

Proud to Serve My Country

When USDA recognized the men and women who served our country at the annual USDA Veterans Day Observance, it was a special day for me. That’s because the observance, held Oct. 27, 2016, was my first as a USDA employee since returning from a Navy individual augmentee deployment to Kabul, Afghanistan in December of 2015.  

It has been more than a year since I answered the call to mobilize. Saying goodbye to your family and friends is never easy. Leaving my job at USDA was not easy, either. But I have no regrets answering that call to duty because for me-- and for my fellow USDA employees who are still serving in the reserve or guard -- we have great support from family, friends, and coworkers.   

Veterans Returning to Civilian Life Bring Skill and Talent to Farm and Ranch

In honor of Veterans Day, Deputy Under Secretary Lanon Baccam provided Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack with an overview of USDA’s support for veterans. Baccam, a proud army veteran, also serves as the Department’s Military Veterans Agriculture Liaison.

We All Agree - Veterans Are Part of Our National Fabric

With the political rhetoric finally over, there’s one inspiring message that everyone can agree with—our veterans already make America great every day. Every veteran who joined the military following the end of the draft in 1973 volunteered to serve our country. And they want to continue serving even after they packed away their uniforms.

During remarks delivered at Arlington Cemetery last year, the President noted that bringing veterans into the workforce shouldn’t necessarily reflect some moral obligation, charity or patriotism. Veterans, including those with disabilities, are simply good for business.  Our veterans possess training, skills, leadership, and motivation ideally suited for public service. Following their commitment of service during one of the longest struggles in history, our veterans consistently reflect passion, resilience, and tenacity to get the job done.  Their talents are seasoned by deployments, honed in many cases under the stress of combat, and forever shaped by an ethos dedicated to mission success.

How Sacrifice and Sense of Duty Drive Our Veterans

I would like to take a moment to recognize the hard work and dedication of America’s veterans.  After serving our country so honorably, many of our veterans feel a sense of duty to continue to give back to the land they love and have fought so hard to protect. And we want all veterans to know about the many ways USDA can support military veterans and their families.

USDA offers incentives and other benefits for veterans interested in everything from farm loans to conservation programs to nutrition assistance to rural rental housing and home ownership opportunities. We also offer a wide variety of loans, grants, training and technical assistance to veterans who are passionate about a career in agriculture. That is why this fall, USDA and the Defense Department came together in an effort to enable every single one of the more than 200,000 service members who leave the military each year to access the training they need to start their own farms or ranch businesses.

A Commitment We Must Keep

When Ivory Smith of Poplarville, Mississippi separated from the Army after ten years of service – including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan – he attended a USDA-sponsored workshop held through our partner, the National Center for Appropriate Technology. At this 'Armed to Farm' workshop for returning Veterans, he learned about small-scale sustainable agricultural practices, and from there developed his microgreens company, SmithPonics, that now supplies fresh salad microgreens to restaurants in his area.

Many of our Veterans, old and young alike, are dealing with the physical and mental scars of combat. USDA Rural Development has been able to provide real support to those Veterans who need care when they return from service – Veterans like Leon Kauzlarich from rural Appanoose County, Iowa. Leon got help to repair his home, and make it accessible to help with his mobility issues.

Rural Veterans, Thank You for Your Service

Today is Veterans Day, and I’d like to take a moment to honor the men and women of our military. Every day, they confront and triumph over those that threaten our national security in order to keep us safe. America’s veterans embody the values that stand at the heart of rural America: hard work, a love of their country, and a sense of duty and sacrifice to give back to the land that has done so much for us all.

To the USDA employees who have served America in uniform, and to those who support family members and loved ones who serve, I offer a sincere and heartfelt thank you. USDA’s staff across the country now includes more than 11,000 veterans. In recent years, we’ve expanded our commitment to bringing on board more former service members, participating in a wide variety of veterans’ hiring efforts coordinated by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense. We’ve also created a USDA Veterans Employment Program office, through which any veteran who contacts us has access to counseling, career help, and consideration for employment. 

USDA Programs Help Ease Transition to Farming, One Vet at a Time

Located three miles east of Vale, South Dakota, on Cox Farms, Cox Sweet Corn is produced by veteran Kyle Cox, who left the Army after 12 years to return to the family farm.

In 2013, Cox separated from the Army to begin his family’s future in agriculture. With 700 acres, the farm produces alfalfa, corn, and more than 2,000 head of cattle.  To help make the most of his agricultural opportunities, Cox took advantage of veteran-focused training funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).  The training is part of USDA-wide effort to support veteran farmers.

Bringing More Farmers Markets to Service Members

As we take time this week to honor America’s veterans, we are also thinking about how we can improve the health and welfare of military communities across the country.  That’s why we are so proud to release the first-ever Guide for Farmers Markets on Military Installations.  By assisting military installations in establishing farmers markets, the guide will help increase access to fresh, local food for soldiers on military installations.  On-base farmers markets also connect members of the military with their surrounding communities and offer family-friendly gathering places where children can learn where their food comes from.

In a truly collaborative effort, my agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), created this detailed manual with the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) Healthy Base Initiative (HBI), and in partnership with Wholesome Wave.  It explains how commanders can establish and successfully operate farmers markets on military installations.

Milwaukee Welcomes the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, Salutes Veterans

Despite the rain and freezing temperatures, there was warmth and good cheer in the hearts of everyone who came out to catch a glimpse of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree and help transform Milwaukee’s Cathedral Square Park into Community Spirit Park on Veteran’s Day.

The fanfare also helped to honor past and present members of the Armed Forces, some of who were on hand to see a holiday bedecked park with a 50-lighted tree, Milwaukee’s Color Guard waving American flags and a larger than life 90-foot tractor trailer parked nearby.

US Forest Service Celebrates National Get Outdoors Day June 8

National Get Outdoors Day, created in a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, will include a wide variety of opportunities to encourage healthy, active outdoor fun, from a rousing day of festivities in City Park in Denver to quieter observations on some national forest and grasslands.

Go Day, as it is often called, was launched June 14, 2008, through a partnership between the Forest Service and the American Recreation Coalition. Built on the success of More Kids in the Woods and other efforts, Go Day connects Americans – especially children – with nature and active lifestyles.